The Arts Appeal: A Measured Approach to Special Events

The Arts Appeal shines a spotlight on the craft of fundraising for the arts. Today, we tackle an old fundraising go-to that may be riskier than you think: The Special Event.


Ah nostalgia! Remember the days of childhood bake sales and exhilarating cakewalks, raising funds for softball teams and fieldtrips? While those feel-good pursuits were great for team building, the financial success of those efforts really had more to do with parental charity (and donation of ingredients) than the meager purse of coins secured from hungry customers.

A quick comparison of costs (including time and resources) against revenue would likely reveal a reality that’s not so different from today’s gala affair: Special events are financially risky.

Any seasoned fundraiser will tell you that special events can and do lose money, especially when there are unanticipated upfront costs (a common characteristic for first-time events).

In addition to upfront costs, events can be gluttonous resource-users, requiring significant staff and volunteer hours. If event budgets included the actual cost of staff time, the outlook for funds raised changes drastically.

If you are starting to feel cautious about special events, you’re now in the best frame of mind to decide if it’s right for you. While they may be financially risky, special events offer unique opportunities to engage with your stakeholders and deepen relationships with current donors.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself before deciding if a special event is the best option for your organization:

  • How much money do you want to raise, net of expenses?
  • What other goals do you have? For example, do you wish to expand your list of friends and donors? Are you creating an event to raise your organization’s profile in the community?
  • Will this be the first year of an annual event?
  • Who is your target market and what type of event will they be attracted to? Remember that this event must be something that feels right to those closest to your organization, as you will be relying on them to attend and invite others to do so.
  • What is a realistic price point for this market?
  • How can you best reach that target market? Are they already in your database?
  • Do you need volunteers to sell tickets?
  • When will you hold your event? Is it seasonal? Do you have sufficient lead-time to plan it well? Are there any potentially conflicting events in your community at that time?
  • What kinds of resources are currently available for the event? Is there a start-up budget? How much staff time can be budgeted? How many volunteers are currently available and how much time are they willing to put into the event? Do you have any connections to potential corporate sponsors for both financial and “in kind” support?

Fundraising aside, by taking a measured approach – with realistic expectations and budgets – your special event can be a fun and effective way to market your organization and strengthen ties with your community.

If you have a special event fundraiser that you’re proud of or are about to launch, we’d love to hear about it. Why not let us know in the comments or drop us a line on Facebook or Twitter?

Categories: MPMG